Precious Bodily Fluids

True Blood has transformed into something bizarre this season.

Something weird has happened on True Blood this season. Ha that’s the point of the show of course but no seriously: it’s transformed from a series that’s always had a tinge of “guilty pleasure” into something that’s just flat-out great.

Season one took a while to get up to speed — it wasn’t exactly clear whether or not they were actually in on the joke. Season two had some amazing moments, but you had to slog through lots of pointless subplots and tedious month-long orgies to get to them. But season three has been firing on all cylinders. It’s got the big mystery (what is Sookie Stackhouse?), a fantastic villain, a ton of interesting side characters, and finally, they’ve completely embraced being on HBO.

Before, it’s always felt like they’re kind of holding back or saving themselves for big moments. This season, the HBO-ness never quite stops. I think every episode has had the Nudity Violence Adult Language warning, but this year they really hit their stride at combining all of those at the same time. This episode started with a blood-covered shower sex scene that would’ve been the climax of any other HBO series, but that was tame compared to everything else and in retrospect actually kind of sweet, in True Blood terms. (Incidentally, with as much fluid exchange as goes on in this series, I’ve got to wonder why they haven’t spent more time talking about STDs). You’d think that you can only go over the top once or twice, but now they just keep stacking more top. And going from really, genuinely dark, to laugh-out-loud funny over the course of one scene.

The end of the most recent episode (“Everything is Broken”) sums up everything that’s great about this season — a creepy-sexy scene in a limo followed immediately by a tour de force performance that’s both hilarious and horrifying. And I never say “tour de force” so you know he knocked it out of the park. And they didn’t even need to ramp it up that much, considering they already had the scene with him narrating his evil plan of revenge to a crystal goblet filled with vampire remains.

I’m not saying it’s all been great. I like the subplots with Sam and Jason in theory — if you spent too much time focused on vampire royalty and Nazi werewolves, it could get too fruity. Even if the werewolves are mostly biker trash. True Blood does need to have a steady supply of straight-up white trash. And this season’s definitely delivered, but there’s the problem: even if your dog fighting rednecks are shapeshifters and your meth dealers are some yet-to-be-determined supernaturals (probably shapeshifters), it’s still hard for that to compete with vampire royalty and Nazi werewolves. You can’t really bash a guy’s head in with a mace and then cut to the dog fight and expect it to be horrific. I’m a little curious to see what the meth dealers turn out to be, but I’ll definitely be happy when Sam’s brother and the rest of his family go the way of Eggs.

I already said that Denis O’Hare is amazing as Russell Edgington, and I also want to go on record as saying I’m on Team Alcide all the way. And Alfre Woodard is pretty fantastic with just a few lines here and there as Lafayette’s mostly-crazy mother, but she’s Alfre Woodard so that’s more or less to be expected.

But the actor who doesn’t get nearly enough credit is Carrie Preston as Arlene. It’s kind of a thankless part, but I think the show would be a lot worse without her stabilizing everything. She’s not the only actress on the show who’s much better-looking in real life (Rutina Wesley really needs a scene where she’s not tied up or crying) but she is the only one who’s really having to walk the line between comic relief and drama. In less competent hands, she could’ve ended up just a caricature. But she manages to make an over-dramatic and a little racist stereotypical character and make her really sympathetic. On a show like True Blood, that can go from sad to horrifying to hilarious at a moment’s notice, you need somebody who gets it.

So that’s all I’ve got about True Blood, and it only took up a little less than an hour. I’ve still got to wait a week until the next episode.